‘Hateful Eight’ Leak: Experts Weigh in On Digital vs. Physical Screeners

The Hateful Eight
Courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

In a world of illegal downloads and online streaming of films still in theaters, one might think Hollywood would be suspect of the very idea of digital screeners, and just stick with the traditional watermarked DVDs sent to awards voters and members of the press.

But recent events might lend credence to proponents of a digital only world for advance screeners of new content. Over the Dec. 18-20 weekend, high-quality screeners of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” and the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller “The Revenant” were leaked online, ahead of both films’ Christmas Day theatrical releases.

Both films have already been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, according to Bit Torrent news site TorrentFreak, and peer-to-peer sharing group Hive-Cm8 has not only claimed responsibility for the leaks, but said it has also gotten its hands on as many as 40 advance DVD screeners of Hollywood content, and “will [release] them all one after another, started [sic] with the hottest title of this year, [and] the rest will follow.”

According to Eugene Tang, executive director of content security for 20th Century Fox, both the studios and distributors have been increasingly relying on digital to deliver their screener content, and there’s a good reason why. Anyone can steal and rip an unsecured DVD, and post the content online. With digital, “it’s got to be more secure than a DVD, by its nature of not being [physical],” Tang said, speaking at the recent Content Protection Summit (CPS) in Los Angeles.

“DVDs have been around since the ’90s, and there’s no reason we should still be using ’90s technology in 2015,” he said.

Tang called for every major studio to get on the same page with one digital delivery screener system, not only because it might prevent the problems with DVD screeners, but also because “it’s a much more enjoyable experience, to be able to sign in, see every single movie [available], versus waiting for it to come in the mail.”

“I think that part of the problem is that there are two major public perceptions about this that we need to watch out for: that studios in general don’t get what consumers want, that they’re behind the times, that people still want DVDs [exclusively],” he said.

However, Anthony Anderson, director of film security for Universal Pictures, pointed out that just as many (if not more) problems exist with digital screeners: log-ins and passwords can be shared, each browser and each digital device presents unique security challenges, and an online offering can be attacked by anyone.

“With every new change there are challenges, and one of those is with a site, anybody can … get to the front page,” he said, also speaking at the CPS event. “Before, if you shipped a DVD to the home, you had to steal it from the doorstep. Now you can sit at home and attack the site, which presents a host of issues.”

Anderson said log-in restrictions (how long content is available, where it can be viewed, and the number of devices available for viewing) must be in place for the delivery of digital screeners.

When it comes to why DVD screeners are still so prevalent, Dmitry Primachenko, SVP of business development and information technology for Deluxe Media, has a simple answer: Industry guild members are old fashioned, and they consider DVD screeners “a perk” that they can add to their libraries.

“I think there are more political challenges than anything else,” he said at the CPS event.

While there were mixed opinions on the digital vs. physical screener issue, every speaker agreed that watermarking was a must. How effective watermarking is was another issue. The pirated versions of “Hateful Eight” and “Revenant” had no noticeable watermarks, according to reports.

Kai Pradel, CEO and founder of digital content delivery company MediaSilo, is obviously a fan. His company’s technology is used by several content companies to deliver watermarked digital content, all in the name of preventing piracy. But Pradel is also a realist, and he knows watermarking alone isn’t cutting it today when it comes to Hollywood protecting its intellectual property.

“Most of, if not all, of the screeners leaked on torrent sites aren’t watermarked,” he said at CPS. “There’s a disconnect when it comes to [protecting content], and the stakes are higher,” he added pointing out that in the 1990s there were only 15 films with a budget of more than $100 million, compared with about 150 so far this decade. To protect these increasingly pricey assets, watermarking — both physical and forensic — is helpful, but it’s not the only thing needed.

At least with watermarking, people can be held accountable, according to Graham Oakes, chairman of the Digital Watermarking Alliance. He said that a “vast majority” of those sharing pirated content “would not be involved if they thought they could be identified.”

“A watermark persists even if you mess with it, transcode it, compress it, any myriad of things consumers like to do with their content,” he said. “It’s part of the media, and it’s not going away.”

For more information on the home media business, visit HomeMediaMagazine.com.

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  1. Physical copies are a much better idea. Think about how quickly these folks would reach their Comcast data cap?

  2. demodular says:

    This shouldn’t be new news since it’s been going on for at least 15 years. The really good copies of film come straight from Hollywood. I saw perfect copies – screeners of “Titanic” at my college because someone new an academy member so we had a copy when the movie was still in the theater. I watched it in the computer lab on a big screen. Making a pure digital distribution of the screeners makes the leaks even easier. Really, the only thing you can do it teach people to respect that perhaps don’t leak the damn film until the thing is released. In this film’s case showing it before it hit theaters is messed up. But people want what they want. Some want desert first and that’s just a fact of life.

  3. Two Distribution Channels for Awards Screeners:

    1. Physical data key fob (coded for each recipient per year) + 2-factor authentication app on mobile device = online streaming.

    AND

    2. Physical discs + physical data key fob (coded for each recipient per year) + phone line (ala DIVX) = player playback. You get to keep the ‘perk’ of discs for your library you like to show to non-pros, but you’ll have to buy that player.

    Can’t work? Have already tested this.

    You’re welcome, Hollywood. (Give me credit)

  4. Meets the Eye says:

    A digital screener can also be filmed off a TV or a computer screen. May not be great quality, but people who watch pirated content aren’t exactly discerning. Until the criminals who steal these films and the public who download them starting paying the price (jail terms for the scumbags who steal and upload these screeners and fines for the downloaders), this is never going to stop. The delivery format makes little difference.

    • MENTD says:

      Not necessary to “film” the screen. You have to understand, everything is a computer today.
      A TV is simply a computer. The video output is simply software telling the data to route to
      the screen. All you need to do is tell that data to dump to hard drive instead, it isn’t hard.
      If you’re playing it on Windows/Mac/Linux, there is already software for all those platforms
      which redirects the video output to hard drive. There is simply no way around it.
      Copy protection does not work and has never worked. Nothing has ever been created which
      has not been undone. If anything, switching from DVD to streaming is even LESS secure.

  5. MENTD says:

    If it displays on a screen, it can be copied. These people are stupid.
    Movies streamed can be recorded/ripped, just as DVDs are and in fact,
    it will just make the group who does it brag that they defeated whatever
    pathetic protection they decide on.

  6. AYU_Dyah says:

    The only solution is going back to analog format when it comes to award seasons screening periods.

    Not only using analog format is much safer in avoiding piracy issues, but also this way would be a campaign for analog format itself.

    Yes, digital era has helped the increasing of films production, since with digital, the production costs can be pressed.

    But, digital format affected the way people watching movies in cinemas. With seluloid (analog), there’s a specific cinematic experiences audiences feel when watching a movie in cinema.

    Meanwhile, digital format have pushed audiences to watch a kind of “television production” on big screen. Of course, bug budget movies will have no problem with digital format since they can depend on big scale effects.But it’s not the same thing happened to smaller movies.

    The Academy and other award bodies should consider in using analog format. Have to admit, the using of digital format has a huge part of declining cinemas attendance.

  7. filmjeff says:

    If the studios and distributors wanted to get serious with piracy, each screener would include the recipient in the on-screening warnings, e.g., “This screener was specifically watermarked for viewing by (NAME).” It’s too easy to ignore the warnings now, but if you could see that they were addressed to you specifically, you’d pay attention and be more careful.

  8. Sanman$ says:

    I watched a digital “Hateful 8” in Toronto last night. It froze so many times that it took over an extra hour to watch the entire movie !!!

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